With print publications regularly seeing falling ABC figures and websites ever more reliant on a regular flow of traffic, it’s little wonder that smaller videogames often get sidelined for big-name blockbusters, licensed tie-ins, and mega-budget sequels. So, despite my apparently decreasing sphere of influence, I often try to do my bit to promote some of these lesser-known titles – whether through enthusiastic forum or Twitter posts, unpaid articles for the gaming section of the Telegraph’s website, or the occasional off-hand mention in a feature with the most tenuous of links to the game in question.
I’m not for a minute claiming I’m the only one who does this. The ever-lovely Simon Parkin – probably my second-favourite games journalist in the world right now – recently thanked me for recommending DSiWare title Starship Patrol, which he then reviewed in predictably erudite and excellent fashion for Eurogamer, but then I felt I owed him one for several games he’s waxed lyrical about in recent years. Indeed, the site itself is often found espousing the merits of some fairly niche titles. And those are just two examples. But I still think collectively, we journos should do more to help champion the cause of these underfunded, under-marketed underdogs.
So here’s a list of five games I’m looking forward to in 2010 that you may not be too familiar with, but all of which probably deserve your attention.
5. Joe Danger (Hello Games, XBLA/PC/PSN, Spring)
The bastard child of NES classic Excite Bike and Trials HD, Joe Danger is the downloadable debut from devteam Hello Games, created by four pals who’ve variously worked at Criterion, Sumo Digital, Kuju and EA. With games like Burnout, Black and Geometry Wars Galaxies under their collective belt, there’s certainly a decent pedigree, and this stunt-packed actioner is a colourful and charming game that will hopefully get plenty of attention when it’s released this Spring. The developer states on its official site that it “wants to make games that will put a stoopid grin on your face.” Joe Danger looks set to do just that.
4. X-Scape/3D Space Tanks (Q-Games, DSiWare, TBC 2010)
Better known as ‘those PixelJunk fellas’, developer Dylan Cuthbert and his team at Q-Games are three for three so far on Nintendo’s DSiWare service, with terrific recent releases Reflect Missile/Trajectile and Starship Patrol/Defense joining the addictive Art Style Digidrive/Intersect. While Nintendo stubbornly refuses to promote the service in any meaningful way (and those dual titles likely confusing some people unaware they’re the same game renamed for the US market), it’s entirely likely that X-Scape/3D Space Tanks will struggle for sales. But going off recent form the game is equally likely to be another compelling reason to upgrade from a DS Lite.
3. Again: Eye of Providence (CiNG, DS, March)
With titles like Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (whose sequel Last Window would likely have replaced this on my list had it been confirmed for a western release) and Another Code, CiNG has proven itself as a more than capable storyteller, if less effective at crafting an entirely satisfying structure around its intriguing narratives. With Nintendo passing on publishing duties – no doubt due to the adult content of this murder-mystery adventure – Tecmo KOEI is bringing this to western shores this March. Its art style is once again unusual – using cutouts of digitised actors in front of more typical polygonal backdrops – and while its central hook resembles nothing more than a thinly-veiled Spot The Difference, I’m hopeful that its dark, twisted story will make up for any gameplay deficiencies.
2. Trauma Team (Atlus, Wii, April)
Lord only knows when it will finally reach Europe, but Atlus’ latest surgery-sim-cum-medical-soap-opera launches Stateside this April. The original Trauma Center: Under The Knife achieved critical acclaim and cult status, but its sequels haven’t been nearly so well-received – the Wii’s Second Opinion in particular being bafflingly underrated, despite an excellent (and unique) co-operative two-player mode and improved presentation. Admittedly, the franchise hasn’t changed a great deal from its original form, but Trauma Team looks like a definite evolutionary step. With six doctors, each with a different speciality – including diagnosis, forensics and, er, endoscopy – the gameplay looks more varied, while the art style has been tweaked and the comic book-style presentation is a little more dramatic than the talking heads of past titles.
1. Yakuza 3 (Sega, PS3, March)
There’s been a bit of internet clamouring for a third Yakuza game, which strikes me as a little odd, as the first two sold so poorly. Yet Sega has bowed to the surprise forum demand and decided to localise the game formerly known as Ryu Ga Gotoku 3, with the game set to hit shelves in what’s likely the busiest March for videogames…well, pretty much ever. Crazy timing, or just an unfortunate victim of circumstance? Either way, it must not go ignored once more, hence its inclusion in this list. Essentially a Japanese GTA minus a lot of the tedious toing and froing of Rockstar’s famous series, and with huge dollops of humour, charm, minigames and outright silliness, Yakuza is perhaps the closest we’re ever going to get to a third Shenmue game. And that’s surely worth forty of your English pounds, yes?
(*I did initially put ‘that you probably aren’t’ in brackets, but that sounded too presumptuous, while ‘that you’ve never heard of’ would undoubtedly have provoked several responses along the lines of ‘…but I’ve heard of all these games’. You get the general idea, I’m sure.)